Background: The potential for human influenza viruses to spread through fine particle aerosols remains controversial. The objective of our study was to determine whether influenza viruses could be detected in fine particles in hospital rooms.
Methods and findings: We sampled the air in 2-bed patient isolation rooms for four hours, placing cyclone samplers at heights of 1.5m and 1.0m. We collected ten air samples each in the presence of at least one patient with confirmed influenza A virus infection, and tested the samples by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. We recovered influenza A virus RNA from 5/10 collections (50%); 4/5 were from particles>4 μm, 1/5 from 1-4 μm, and none in particles<1 μm.
Conclusions: Detection of influenza virus RNA in aerosols at low concentrations in patient rooms suggests that healthcare workers and visitors might have frequent exposure to airborne influenza virus in proximity to infected patients. A limitation of our study was the small sample size. Further studies should be done to quantify the concentration of viable influenza virus in healthcare settings, and factors affecting the detection of influenza viruses in fine particles in the air.